It’s an age old notion that elderberries can help boost your immune system. Ever noticed that they’re a key ingredient in cold fighting syrups and medicines? Well, there’s a reason for that.
Our favourite Nutritionist, Matt Edwards, explains why elderberries should be a staple in your diet, how they help boost your immune system and reveals the best ways to get them into your diet.
What is elderberry?
Before we get into how they can help boost your immune system, let’s delve into what they actually are.
Elderberries are dark purple berries that come from the European elder tree. The most common type of elder tree is known as the Sambucas Nigra and contains little clusters of blue or black elderberries, along with small white elderflowers.
The berries of the tree are made up of certain substances that have proven to help keep you healthy, particularly when it comes to protecting you against colds and flu.
Do elderberries help your immune system?
The short answer is yes, they absolutely do. Often hailed as a natural way to boost your immune system, they are packed with illness-fighting compounds and substances that give your body that extra ‘kick’ when it comes to fighting off illness-causing bacteria and viruses.
But how? Well, it’s in their anatomy.
Matt explains: “Elderberries are amazing at fighting colds and flu because they’re packed with anthocyanins, vitamins and minerals which support your immune system. Anthocyanins can help boost production of cytokines which regulate immune responses.”
To give you an idea of their nutritional makeup, just one cup of elderberries contain the following vitamins and minerals:
• Vitamin A (870mg) • Potassium (406 mg) • Vitamin C (52.5mg) • Folate (9mg) • Calcium (55mg) • Iron (2.32mg)
“Antioxidants and anthocyanins help your body to fight free radicals.”
When there is a build up of free radicals, and not enough antioxidants to fight them, they cause oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can do damage to DNA and proteins which can lead to a vast number of diseases, a depleted immune system and premature ageing.”
Numerous studies have shown that elderberry has a potent antiviral effect against the flu, as it inhibits the early stages of infection by blocking certain proteins that are responsible for causing illness.
Okay, so we’ve established that elderberries are pretty great at boosting your immune system - but their superpowers don’t stop there. They’re also good at treating allergies and inflammation.
Allergies and inflammation are caused by an overreaction of the immune system. It’s essentially your immune system overreacting to something that it doesn’t like or sees as a threat, so it goes into overdrive producing antibodies to fight them.
You know those antioxidants and anthocyanins that we mentioned before? Well, they’re also fantastic anti-inflammatories. Since allergies cause inflammation within the body, the antioxidants within elderberries can calm that inflammation, helping to relieve your symptoms.
How can I add elderberries to my diet?
So, now we know that elderberries are full of health benefits, how do we get them into our diet?
Matt says: “There are so many super tasty ways to add elderberries into your diet. They can be added to porridge for breakfast, smoothies for when you’re in need of a pick me up, added to plain yogurts or one of the easiest ways is through supplementation.
Elderberries are one of the key ingredients within the Known Immune Boost Plus Gummy Vitamins. Each gummy contains 50mg of elderberry extract, along with three other super immune boosting ingredients such as Vitamin B12, C and Zinc.”
Can everyone eat elderberries?
Despite them having lots of fantastic health benefits, elderberries cannot be eaten raw and must be cooked before eaten.
Matt says: “Without being cooked they are extremely toxic and can cause diarrhea, vomiting and nausea. This is because they contain small amounts of lectins, which if eaten too often, can cause stomach problems.
Secondly, the elderberry plant contains a substance called cyanogenic glycosides. In some cases, these have been shown to release cyanide, which can be poisonous. However, all of these toxic substances can be removed by cooking them.
Considering the lack of research about elderberry juice and pregnancy, we’d always suggest discussing consuming elderberries with your physician if you are pregnant. Whilst properly prepared elderberry juice has no known side effects or confirmed drug interactions, unripe elderberries are toxic, and may cause vomiting, nausea or diarrhea. Hence, consuming unripe elderberries could hurt mother and child.